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Santa Maria Sun / Eats
No place like Presqu'ile: The wine harvest kicks off in the Santa Maria Valley where one premier vineyard is 'spicing' things up
BY WENDY THIES SELL
The Murphy Family knew they had something special when they planted the sustainably farmed 72-acre Presqu’ile Vineyard on their property off of Clark Avenue east of Orcutt.
Their sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, and nebbiolo vines are thriving on the sandy Santa Maria Valley hillsides where rows of gladiolas once bloomed.
Because of warmer than usual weather this year, the 2014 harvest is early—one of the earliest harvests in memory for Santa Barbara County.
“Harvest is going smoothly, although we are just getting started,” Presqu’ile president Matt Murphy wrote in an email to the Sun. “Our first pick was [July 31]; three tons of pinot for sparkling wine, followed by three tons of chardonnay [on Aug. 4] for the same program, all harvested from Presqu’ile Vineyard.”
It’s been a handful of years since the vines were planted, and the superb wines sourced from Presqu’ile are showing the fruits of their labor.
“Five years in, I am astonished with the progress the vineyard is making qualitatively; quite pleased with the job [vineyard manager] Jim Stollberg and his crew are doing; and excited to see the enthusiasm with which our wines have been received locally and nationally,” Murphy added. “In addition to the exposure we are getting with Presqu’ile’s wines, we have a great group of guys and gals making stunning wines from our vineyard.”
Eleven customers buy Presqu’ile’s grapes and produce wine under their own labels, including local winemakers Ernst Storm of Storm Wines, Ariki (Rick) Hill of Labyrinth Winery, and Kevin Law of Luminesce Wine.
In June, that esteemed trio joined Presqu’ile’s talented winemaker, Dieter Cronje, for a comparative tasting and panel discussion inside the impressive Presqu’ile Winery as part of Santa Barbara Vintners’ Key to Wine Country weekend.
The four wineries presented newer releases—mostly the 2012 vintage—all made from Presqu’ile grapes. The winemakers discussed winemaking techniques and touted the Presqu’ile Vineyard.
“This is a wonderful site,” Law from Luminesce said. “This little site here, it’s like hydroponics in the sand; you can really fine-tune your watering, it responds quicker. You can really dial it in. We’re pretty fortunate to be picking grapes from here.”
“We all make wines that best represent the vineyards we work with,” Storm of Storm Wines added. “We’re all picking in the same place. We do things a little differently in the winery, which is why you’ll see differences in the wines. To work with a property like this, and to have a bunch of winemakers, we all have a common goal, and that’s to represent the site.”
It is that time of year again when these four winemakers, and others, are returning to Presqu’ile to pick grapes from different blocks of the vineyard in order to produce the varied styles of wines that are unique to each winery.
But one can still detect a commonality among the wines: “Santa Maria spice” is present, as well as minerality and elegance.
The climate and the soil have a lot to do with that.
“It’s a very cool growing area, and that obviously determines the style of wine that comes from here,” Cronje from Presqu’ile said. “It tends to have a longer growing season, more acidity, and tends to have lower alcohol.”
He described the common flavor profile of Presqu’ile’s splendid sauvignon blanc: “Green, it’s got grass, it’s jalapeño.”
Cronje had high praise for Storm’s brilliant 2012 Presqu’ile Vineyard sauvignon blanc, handcrafted by a fellow South African, and said, “It’s lovely. This is one of my favorite sauv blancs on the planet.”
He also raved about the lovely 2012 Labyrinth chardonnay made from Presqu’ile fruit. “This wine completely blew my mind,” Cronje said.
Labyrinth’s winemaker, Hill, chimed in about his wine, adding, “This is the first year I made chard from the Presqu’ile property. There’s an element of elegance, leanness.”
Clearly, there’s camaraderie among these men, but it begs the question: Do these accomplished winemakers compete with one another? Or at least compare each other’s wines?
“A lot. We compare a lot,” Cronje quickly admitted. “There’s a friendly competition here. I try to get their wines together at some point in the barrel stage. For me, it’s a measuring stick obviously.”
Hill said, “We party hard together, we drink together, we work together, we harvest together. It’s a real friendly competition.”
His pal Storm added, “It’s fun to come during harvest and outside of harvest and try each other’s wines and pick each other’s brains. This is a fairly new vineyard so we’re all still learning from it and trying to figure out the best way to really capture the site.”
In the benevolent Santa Maria Valley winemaker community, Cronje explained, you’re never an island. “If one of us does better or if two of us do better, everybody will do better at the end of the day, and the valley itself will get more respect, which it deserves.”
Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell can be contacted at email@example.com.